Project Based Learning In Month One

The end of September is a fantastic moment for reflection in the school year. With about a month under my belt, routines and procedures are in place. I know my students pretty well. Now it’s time to reflect on the efficacy of the instructional practices I’ve been using.

In the past, I’ve used traditional units of study. If I were teaching about the moon, you could expect teacher directed lessons throughout the whole unit. Students would learn, and they would be assessed at the end. That would be it. Pretty simple, eh?

Instead, I am now setting the stage for each unit by framing it from the first day as part of a larger idea. For our first unit, Nutrition and Exercise, I had a nutritionist that works with the Carolina Panthers come into the classroom and give my students a challenge. She did this at the very launch of the unit! She told them that the Carolina Panthers are trying to start a flag football league for 4th graders. My students were tasked by this professional dietitian to create their own nutrition and exercise plans for kids their own age. Are the panthers really recruiting the 4th grade students in my class to help them develop their youth football program? I couldn’t tell you. A magician never reveals his secrets. The point is that now when my students come to my class, they aren’t learning disparate chunks of information that I hope will coalesce into a full understanding of the subject. They are learning with a purpose. They are learning about nutrition and exercise so that they can immediately apply that knowledge towards completing an important project.

I wish I could say that my first PBL has students ready for a silicon valley conference room. The reality is that we are only a month in. Some students have adapted to the 21st century focused PBL learning beautifully, and they worked so hard to get their projects finished. Some students are struggling with the personal responsibility inherent in applying their learning to a large project. They might let one aspect of the project fall to the wayside or miss a deadline or two. One major win I’ve noticed is that all of my students seem more excited about learning. Teaching students about nutrition has historically been a rather dry topic, but with the rationale of working for the Carolina Panthers in place from the start, they were much more excited to get learning. PBL is definitely a choice I’m sticking with. My students will certainly rise to the new challenges, and giving them the excitement of being a part of something beyond the classroom is something I can’t wait to continue.

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